Might and Magic 7: the title should already tell you of the success of the series. As one of the most popular RPG series for the PC, Might and Magic has always been known for fun gameplay, myriad side-quests, and an obligatory plot link to the sci-fi story that plays out in all of them. I'm happy to say that Might and Magic 7 retains those qualities, and improves upon them from it's most recent predecessor.
The story takes place soon after that of New World Computing's popular gaiden strategy series' 3rd installment, Heroes of Might and Magic 3. As it stands, after winning back her homeland from her now-lich father, Queen Catherine Gryphonhart rules the land of Erathia. However, with the shift in power came revivals of old feuds, namely the enmity between the Elves and Humans, and that between the Necromancers of Dejya and the Wizards of Bracada. It is into this swirling vortex of politics and scheming you are thrust, as contestants in a scavenger hunt.
Landing on Emerald Isle, you scour the tiny province for the items needed to complete the hunt, and receive your prize from Lord Markham: Castle Harmondale! But, as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free castle for that matter, and from the start you are faced by mysterious strangers, and monsters. When you finally win the contest, you are given the deed to lovely Castle Harmondale and set sail for your new home… which just happens to be a very run down fortress smack dab in the middle of a conflict between the Humans and Elves. Welcome to your adventure!
From here on you have to unravel the truths behind the deception, find mediation for the warring factions, and eventually take a side in the magical conflict, either Light for the Wizards, or Dark for the Necromancers. The game is full of things to do, and quests to complete, and even past the end of the game, you'll always have something to do for someone.
The gameplay is rather complex, and to cover everything would be suicide, so I'll try and list the major points. You begin by choosing your party of four members from a wide array of class choices: Knight, Paladin, Thief, Sorcerer, Cleric, Archer, Ranger, Monk, and Druid. Each one has certain abilities, or lack thereof, and some of them can learn certain skills (which I will get to in a minute) while some cannot. In addition, depending on which path you choose in the game, your characters will either be promoted to a good or evil class of his or her profession, allowing them to gain mastery in certain skills, while shutting them off from others. And, since the party you choose will be yours for the whole game, it is imperative you choose the one best suited for you and the challenges you will face.
Upon creating your characters, you'll notice that they are allowed to have skills. Skills are what let you use weapons, magic, and armor, as well as mix potions, repair weapons and armor, identify them, and even bargain better with merchants. As you can probably guess, skills are the backbone of your characters' development throughout the game. You can't wield a sword without the sword skill, you can't use fire magic without the fire magic skill etc. In addition, the proficiency you have in each skill affects its usefulness. Each character class can learn most skills, but to what proficiency they can learn them is drastically different. For each skill there are 4 levels of mastery: Normal, which is just having the skill itself, Expert, Master, and the zenith level, Grand Master. So, if you had, say, a master level sword skill you could use a sword in each hand. If you had Grand Master in that skill, it would also add to your defense rating. Most characters can only reach Grand Master in a select few skills, so it is wise not only to consider what skills you CAN have, but which skills you can EXCEL at.
But how does one raise these skill levels? Why, in the tried and true manner of hacking and slashing enemies and completing quests! For doing both you obtain experience, which, when enough is accumulated, allows you to increase your levels and gain skill points which you allocate to certain skills in order to increase them. When your skill gets to a certain level, you have to then find a teacher who, for a fee, will instruct you in that higher level of skill.
I enjoyed the aspect of having skills for your party which you could level up. While I think that more skills should be available for mastery to some classes (if only the Druid could grandmaster a weapon!) for most parties you can have a good array of skills to bring you through most situations. And at least you can learn more than those you start with.
The next gameplay aspect to touch on is definitely the battle system. On the maps (both overworld and dungeon) you walk around a polygonal 3D landscape from a first person view. Normally the game is in real time, so if you see an enemy, it will come towards you and start it's AI slashing or hacking or casting at you. Hence, you have to fight back. Each character will take a swing/shot at the enemy you click on, after which that character will need to recover from the action. Depending on what weapon/spell is being used and the skill proficiency with which that character can use it, the recovery time will vary. However, when you're being faced down by a pack of quick attacking enemies, you might want to press Enter in order to go into turn based mode. Here's where I spent quite a few battles, myself! In turn based mode, all the action stops moving in real time, and you're allowed to take turns (which often times negates such long recovery time penalties). When it's your characters' turn, target an enemy with a weapon or spell (or heal an ally for that matter) and let 'er fly! This method can be a lifesaver, and most players will use it about as much if not more than the active real time battle mode.
The battle system is wonderful, especially having both active and turn based play. Being able to switch between the two has saved my butt countless times, and the dynamics of spells and weapons are simple enough, yet allow for some strategy (hmm, should I go to that pack of goblins and hack em to death or should I pick them off with my longbows?)
Then there are the quests! Here's where you get that old school RPG charm. People in houses, castles, huts, caves, etc. love giving your characters errands to do. In return, they reward you with valuable gold and experience, as well as an excuse to go pillage some cavern or castle of its treasures. Quests are broken down into Main Line quests (those that directly affect the story of the game), secondary quests (those that, obviously, do not affect the story), and promotion quests (which allow your characters to change their classes so they can gain more HP, MP, skills, etc.) All of them are worth doing, but depending on which path you choose in the mid-game (Light or Dark) some promotion quests will be blocked off to you. Kinda makes you wish there were some gray area, eh?
The final element I want to discuss is that of the world around you. Erathia is split up into 15 separate overworld areas, each with stores, dungeons, castles, and whatnot. Initially, each map is covered in blackness on the map screen, but as you explore, more is revealed to you. Treasure, items, and enemies are strewn throughout the landscapes for you to enjoy/be annoyed with. Each area is also connected to other areas by means of carriage, boat, or roads, and to travel between areas, merely employ one of these routes.
There are people walking all over the maps in town, and most have useful skills. If you can pay the price, you can employ them to use those skill for your party's benefit. The various shops and stores are where your characters buy their all-important armor, weapons, items, and spells. Depending on how good a merchant you are, and what your reputation is, you can usually haggle the shopkeeps down from their original price.
The dungeons are pretty straightforward mazes in which you have to accomplish something, be it finding a treasure or killing an enemy. Since they are all indoor areas, it's a BYOI (bring your own illumination). The lighting effects reflect well (haha, joke) the usually drab, repetitive interiors which are usually either caves or buildings. Fortunately, they have enough enemies inside that you really won't spend time admiring the decorum. I suppose there just wasn't that much innovation in dungeon design over the previous Might and Magic.
Now, let's talk about graphics. As stated earlier, all maps are polygon rendered with some good texture mapping for walls and houses. The sprawling landscapes aren't harsh on the eye, and you can look up and down without any fracturing of the landscape. Curves are done well, and the people and enemies you meet aren't blocky at all. They're round, and they look like what they are supposed to look like, which makes for a more realistic playing experience. Inside buildings, you are treated to a nice, slightly animated scene of what is going on there, such as an innkeeper pouring ale, or a weapon store owner hammering away on a sword. They all add to the atmosphere of the game nicely. In addition, at certain points in the game you are treated to CG cutscenes which are done nicely (though you never see characters' lips move). Of course, depending on what type of video card you have (and yes, M&M7 DOES have support for 3D hardware) your experience may vary. But if you can run the game, it shouldn't be a problem.
Sound is a mixture of good and bad. On the good side, most of the voice acting is on par. Each of your characters will make little comments when they get injured, kill a beast, or take certain actions. Some of the voices can get VERY annoying (that damn redhead elf and her blasted whining!), but luckily you can change the voice when you are creating your characters, or, during the game, you can shut off the voices totally. The music in the game is sparse, and after a track ends, it doesn't repeat, so most of your gaming experience will be spent just listening to sound effects and your characters' voices. What there IS of music, however, is nice, and fits the mood quite well (though I don't know why they need opera for the Bracada desert.) The sound effects are usually right on, from the monster sounds to those of your own footsteps. I just wish there had been more music in the game, or at least have it be longer.
Control in the game is also a mixed blessing. You move around the map using the arrow keys either at a brisk walk or a run (there's an option to always run). Just be careful when there is a lot going on onscreen, because when that slowdown hits, it's not pretty. I suggest walking instead of running when this happens. Other than that, most actions are taken by clicking the mouse on what you want to interact with. Everything from buying weapons to using them is activated by using the mouse, which is usually steady and accurate. It's a simple system, but effective. I enjoyed not having to keep going between the mouse and the keyboard every time I wanted to do something.
Overall, Might and Magic 7: For Blood and Honor, surpasses its progenitor in almost every area. While the music and dungeons were a bit of a disappointment, the more linear plot, the ability to choose a certain path, and the increased number of character classes make M&M7 shine over its prequil. I just hope that the next installment of the series builds on the success of this game.
|Spell effects have been slightly enhanced, but are still nothing special.
|The entrance screens are beautiful and animated, always lending the proper feel to the location.